What We Can Learn from Non-Arts Sectors About Planning
Earlier in our toolkit we discussed various types of plans—operational plans, long-range plans and strategic plans—as well as the forces that make planning different in corporate, nonprofit and state art agency settings. There are strong similarities of process and technique that cut across the various sectors—assigning leadership roles, creation of a mission and vision, identification of core values, scanning the environment and collecting relevant data, and creation of goals and action plans. Where significant differences lie is generally in the composition of these various elements (accountability to citizens or to a board of directors), guiding principles (service versus profit) and the sophistication of and depth to which certain techniques are employed during planning (town meetings, data collection, etc.).
Even so, there are lessons that state arts agencies can glean from how other sectors approach and implement planning, and we thought it would be helpful to take a look at just a few.
In 1983, consultant Peter Schwartz suggested that his client, Royal Dutch/Shell, undertake a study of the Soviet Union. At the time, although the oil the Soviet Union produced was reasonably priced, the country was a relatively minor player in the oil and gas business internationally, partly due to an unofficial agreement among European countries to limit Soviet penetration of their markets. Shell was ready to embark on the most expensive drilling operations ever in the North Sea and it was counting on continued stability in both the political climate in the USSR and in a path of inevitably rising oil prices.
It was at Shell that Schwartz refined his “scenario-building” techniques described in detail in his book, The Art of the Long View. Shell allowed Schwartz to begin a planning a process that included thinking the unthinkable. That process entailed engaging in extensive research, questioning long-held assumptions and ingrained company mindsets, being committed to the long term and then imagining possible scenarios.
All this led Schwartz to present Shell with two scenarios for the future of the Soviet Union, which he dubbed “incrementalism” and “the greening of Russia.” Within each of these scenarios, Schwartz and his planning team highlighted the key potential indicators of political and economic change that would signal whether the scenario was being activated.
Here is a brief summary of Schwartz’s eight steps to developing scenarios:
- Identify the focal issue or decision.
- List the key factors in the local environment influencing success or failure of that decision.
- List the driving forces in the macro-environment that influence these key factors.
- Rank key factors and driving forces by degree of importance and uncertainty.
- Select scenario logics that will determine which scenarios to follow.
- Flesh out the scenarios in detail.
- Revisit the focal issue or decision and rehearse each scenario.
- Select leading indicators and signposts to monitor the scenarios.
It was Schwartz’s scenario building that prepared Shell far in advance of its competitors (and even of the CIA!) for the fall of the Soviet Union and for the collapse of oil prices—two events that did not even seem remote possibilities at the beginning of their planning process. Shell continues to work to anticipate changes in its environment. For instance, analysts now project that hydrogen will become a feasible consumer energy source within the next two decades—far sooner than most experts previously anticipated. Shell is now investing in subsidiaries that specialize in hydrogen-based energy solutions in an effort to stay “ahead of the curve” and retain its market advantage.
New Mexico State University Library and New York State Comprehensive Research Library
Few institutions have endured as much pressure to change in the past few years as the nation’s libraries. Dramatic advances in technology, the shift to digital information sources and the chameleon-like nature of urban demographics have had a significant effect on the very nature of how libraries define themselves and how they do business. This may be one reason why libraries are heavily involved in strategic planning efforts. Two of these efforts can provide state arts agencies with interesting lessons and models.
New Mexico State University (NMSU) Library has a long history of accomplishments based on planning. The library’s current strategic plan can be found on their website. Forty representatives from throughout the library and forty members of the NMSU community, university faculty and students contributed in a participatory process that generated, discussed, analyzed, and finally endorsed the plan’s ideas.
The library’s process began with the dean’s articulation of a vision for the future. Then, eight members of the library and three members from the university community designed the planning process. They created five committees that ultimately produced the plan:
- environmental scanning committee
- values scan committee
- strategic business modeling committee
- mission formulation committee
- performance audit and gap analysis (PAGA) committee
Having defined a potential future, PAGA conducted a gap analysis—the gap between the library’s current performance versus its desired future—to determine if the gap could be closed. The five-year plan document was ultimately based on the performance audit and gap analysis.
The NMSU team then created a contingency planning committee, which considered the entire plan. They created, within the library’s organizational structure, a standing committee to accomplish the strategic goals identified in the plan. The contingency planning committee believed an empowered group would be the most appropriate method to ensure that a “living plan” was implemented and unforeseen contingencies were addressed on a timely basis.
The library’s website presents a distinctive version of their strategic plan, complete with appendices representing the entire and unedited work of all of the people who participated, directly and indirectly, in the process. The library hopes this presentation will convey several key principles:
- The vision, mission and goals are to provide direction and guidance for the library to fulfill its mission, and are not an unequivocal road map.
- Strategic planning is a process, not a document.
- The process must be both participatory and living if it is to have any real meaning for the library and the users served.
- Together, these principles allow the library to focus on its users and its mission while responding to a continually evolving environment.
The New York State Comprehensive Research Library also had an unconventional strategic plan.
In 1996, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation granted New York State’s eleven Comprehensive Research Libraries $50,000 to plan for the creation of a New York State Digital Library—a “virtual library” of electronic resources either published or created from materials in the state’s libraries, archives and other cultural institutions. The grant allowed NYCRL to create a strategic plan for converting New York-related collections to digital form and make them available over the Internet.
During the two-year grant period, representatives from each of the eleven member libraries, the group’s Steering Committee and representatives from several libraries met to discuss the development and management of a website that documents New York’s heritage. An intern joined the project to develop the website. At the end of the two-year project, a digital library symposium was held on technical issues as well as findings by member institutions.
The effectiveness of any policy initiative will increase as it serves higher purposes, is owned by larger numbers of people and is kept alive over a longer period of time.
A major focus of NYCRL’s efforts was to work with groups throughout New York State interested in collaborating to develop a digital library. Legislation was proposed and presented at meetings of the New York Library Association Legislation Committee. Members traveled to Albany to consult with legislators and representatives of other educational/cultural groups, and represented NYCRL at statewide meetings to plan the implementation of the Electronic Doorway Library program and the Library Services and Technology Act. At both the New York Library Association and Academic Libraries 2000 Conference, NYCRL members made formal presentations about “the making of New York” and discussed digital library developments and the challenges they present for libraries.
Also, NYCRL members focused on joint licensing agreements and other ways to collaborate on discounted purchasing arrangements statewide. The work that took place with regard to vendor contracts represented a major step forward in cooperative programs of benefit to all libraries. This outreach effort resulted in NYCRL being represented in numerous forums statewide, ensuring for the first time that the interests of research libraries are heard when considering statewide actions.
The plan’s presentation on NYCRL’s website extends its strategic intent to connect libraries with one another and with the public, demystify the tenets and process of planning, and keep the document alive. In addition to the body of the document itself, the website provides access to:
- press releases used during the process
- selection and collection criteria
- meeting notes and minutes from all planning sessions
- a legislative proposal and other funding possibilities
- background papers and technical information
- hyperlinks to websites of all participating libraries (by alpha sort and by subject headings)
- a “comments and suggestions” form to elicit on-going feedback (with a guaranteed staff response within three business days)
The World Bank and Colombia’s Electricity Sector
During the 1980s the Colombian electricity sector was undergoing seismic shifts in its environment. There was a worldwide recession, Colombia was overproducing electricity in the face of lowering demand, the peso had been devalued, the industry’s external debt was enormous and it was suffering losses of 25 percent due to illegal tapping. In January 1985, Colombia’s minister of finance asked the World Bank for help. Instead of providing electricity policy makers with technical consultations and expert solutions, the World Bank decided to finance the facilitation of a planning conference to help the sector develop new concepts of shared empowerment and a greater appreciation of its total power field.
To do this, World Bank brought in a team from the Wharton Graduate School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) who designed a “search conference” with the purpose of bringing a large and diverse group of stakeholders together in order to increase personal and organizational power at all levels through sharing information and increasing learning processes.
The planning conference included a diverse mix of sixty participants, including national policy makers, staff of energy subsectors, budgeting officials, consumers, major utilities representatives, academics and specialists. The Wharton group ascribed to a philosophy that will be of interest to state arts agencies: “Potential power increases as our purposes expand from individual, short-term problem solving to serve medium-term community values, and still more when we serve the long-term ideals of a whole system.” In other words, the effectiveness of any policy initiative will increase as it:
- serves higher purposes
- is owned by larger numbers of people
- is kept alive over a longer period of time
The three-day “exploratory planning workshop” held in Santa Marta, Colombia, was composed of the following series of exercises self-managed by small groups using facilitators and reporters:
- Image of current realities, created individually as drawings, and then coalesced into a small group composite
- Creation of the ideal design of the electricity sector, from the perspective of concerned Colombian citizens and then presented in a creative synthesis (image, metaphor, dance, etc.)
- Creation of strategies for approaching the ideal, presented by groups as a map showing the causal relationships between major events
- Examination of stakeholder reactions, presented as a role play of a debate between major stakeholders
- Creation of a plan of action
- Reflections on work achieved
The planning conference resulted in two major realizations by its participants: First, most of its problems could not be solved internally, and needed to be resolved through a broader involvement and participation with external stakeholders. Second, a new “sector” needed to be created to mediate between the interests of coal, electricity and oil, and those of the nation. One other positive by-product of the conference was that one of the participating Technical Board energy consultants became the next minister of mines and used the results of planning to make drastic changes in his new agency.
This model of planning has gone on to be used internationally by countries interested in building holistic, developmental partnerships across cultures based on their different ways of learning. State arts agencies might keep in mind that this planning model requires managing three sets of relationships found in all environments: the relationship to ourselves (control), to others (influence) and to the whole (appreciation). A set of very simple principles can help ensure more effective design of a planning conference:
- Eliminate power differences among participants.
- Ensure that information flows with equal probability among the participants so that everyone has equal access to an appreciation of the whole.
- Allow participants their own interpretation of results, accepting that the whole is too huge and complex to be analyzed or categorized by any one person.
- Artistic processes (drawing, drama, dance, creative writing, music) have the potential to inject creativity and authenticity to visioning and to the entire planning process.
For a complete description of this process, see “Planning for the Electricity Sector in Colombia,” by William E. Smith, Ph.D., in Marvin R. Weisbord’s book Discovering Common Ground.